After extensive research of lawyers’ personalities, Susan Daicoff, professor of law at Capital University in the USA, concluded that lawyers are different from normal folk in a number of ways, much of which is apparent from childhood. On the Myers & Briggs Foundation personality test we apparently come out as Type IITJ – “introversion, intuition, thinking and judging” – generally being cold, argumentative, competitive and materialistic.
As an employment lawyer, being cold and argumentative would make me immediately unpopular with my clients. Perhaps Americans want something different from their attorneys, but, to me, that doesn’t sound very appealing.
Personality, I’d argue, is more important now than ever before. The legal profession has undergone a revolution over the past 20 years: the move from local high street to international offices; generalist to specialist; sole practitioners to employers of hundreds; family firms to multi-national conglomerates. Each of these, along with the growth in telecommunications, global travel and economic boom (and bust) has shaped the legal services now provided, and – more importantly – how they are provided. Culture and attitudes within firms have changed too.
The relaxation of rules on advertising has had a dramatic effect as firms compete to be the first in mind whenever a potential client has a legal query. Indeed, if we are looking for big personalities we need not look further than daytime television and the endless number of commercials demanding “if you have had an accident, it must be someone’s fault”. But who do you choose? The chap off The Bill or the big guy with the bad suit? Is it a matter of trust, celebrity endorsement or personality? Why are the public not turning to the family lawyer like they used to?
The demands on a client’s time and attention have forced firms to take unprecedented steps to ensure they are top of the list. Client care and retention has become a full-time commitment, but has now extended way beyond offering biscuits with their tea. Days at the races, evenings at the theatre and regular email and telephone contact are all methods of retaining clients and keeping their focus on you and your firm. But, I reckon, above all of these is the importance of the relationship between a solicitor and his client. Why else would we have photos on our websites and information about our outside activities? Personality is essential. But it should also be expressed with caution.
A fine line
One has to be mindful of the persona within the workplace. As the ‘new generation’ rise through the ranks it can be difficult for junior lawyers to play the personalities which sit in the 21st century law firm and navigate the traditional hierarchy. Of course, the Ally McBeal school of overfamiliarity is probably best avoided, but it’s important for personality to gleam through to clients. And when client retention is the cornerstone of our work, a personality can always be measured with “intuition, thinking and judging”.
We all know senior partners who have a fierce reputation, a wild temper or a patronising tone. But we also know times are changing and the demands of clients and the workplace are evolving at a pace. I believe those who rule the office by fear will not fit into the law firms of the future. Personalities are good; egos are not. After all, who wants to look and sound like a solicitor? Not me…
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 11 October 2010, and is reproduced by kind permission